Consumer bags continue to be a popular packaging option for shippers of Wisconsin potatoes.
More retailers are choosing to pack Wisconsin potatoes in proprietary store-brand bags, said Mike Carter, chief executive officer for Rosholt, Wis.-based Bushmans’ Inc.
Bushmans’ is more than happy to pack in whatever bag or other package retailers ask for, but the company still plans to push its Market Fresh label hard in 2011-12, Carter said.
“When we have the choice, we’ll use Market Fresh,” he said. “We will use that as our dominant brand and label.”
Bushmans’ last fall bought Nixa, Mo.-based Market Fresh, a marketer that specializes in sweet potatoes, sweet onions and tomatoes, and decided to make it the primary brand for Bushmans’ potatoes.
“We consider Market Fresh to be a national brand,” Carter said.
In 2011-12, Bushmans’ also will continue to pack Wisconsin-grown spuds in its Speedy Spud line and in its Roadhouse Baker tray packs, Carter said.
Potato packaging trends — such as steamer bags, individually wrapped spuds and tray packs — come and go, said Tom Lundgren, owner and president of Stevens Point, Wis.-based Spud City Sales LLC.
But in the end, the industry workhorses always emerge on top.
“They might be dinosaurs, but people always revert to the 5- and 10-pound bags,” he said.
“The volume on (newer pack options) is nothing compared to the 5 and 10s. You can only reinvent the potato so many times.”
Spud City Sales continues to see strong sales of the vented bags it introduced in 2007, Lundgren said.
“We’re flying through them,” he said.
The bags are half-mesh and half-poly and contain dozens of holes that allow spuds to breathe and stay dry.
Customers have found that’s especially important with early-season spuds, due to high heat and humidity, Lundgren said.
The Spud City-branded bags are available in 4-, 5-, 8-, 10-, 15- and 20-pound sizes and feature a graphic of a field and city skyline.
The bags, which are bilingual and feature nutrition information and a recipe on the back, come in brown for russets and red for red potatoes.
Bancroft, Wis.-based RPE Inc., expects growth in its Tasteful Selections line of baby potatoes in 2011-12, said Randy Shell, vice president of marketing.
“Consumers love the quick cook times and unique flavor of these baby potatoes,” Shell said.
While Tasteful Selections will be a priority in the upcoming season, RPE will take a balanced approach in promotions, with an equal emphasis on bargain, mainstream and specialty packs, Shell said.
“We believe it’s the best method to grow the entire category,” he said. “This will continue to be our strategy with our customers.”
Bob Johnson, president of Katz Produce Sales LLC, Plover, Wis., expects to sell more two-count and four-count russet tray packs in 2011-12.
“It’s not big, but it’s something you have to be a part of,” he said.
Katz also is selling more fingerling and other specialty packs, Johnson said. He stresses, though, that “more” is a relative term.
“It’s growing dramatically, but that means from half a percent to 1% to 2%” of total volumes, he said.
Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Farms & Produce Inc. expects higher sales of the new steamer packs it introduced in 2010, said Larry Alsum, the company’s president and general manager.
The 12-ounce packs feature creamer size potatoes in red and yellow varieties, Alsum said.
“We hope to build on that momentum and expand markets for those products,” he said.
Packaged spuds are a way for retailers to extend their product lines, Johnson said.
“Retailers all want bigger and bigger departments, more SKUs,” he said. “They get a nice ring out of those (packaged potatoes), and they love it.”
But Johnson isn’t convinced that more variety is necessarily the answer when it comes to potato packaging options at retail.
“People are only going to buy so many potatoes,” he said. “If they’re buying one, they’re not buying the other. There tends to be some cannibalization to some extent.”
It’s often a case of keeping up with the Joneses, Johnson said.
“They’re doing it because the store across the street is doing it,” he said.